Archive for Venetian Curiosities

I was walking along, head down, pondering, when suddenly I saw this just lying on the ground. I promise you I did not touch it, even with my foot. What I'll never know is how or by what agent these pieces came together. The "why" seems obvious, though.

I was walking along, head down, pondering, when suddenly I saw this just lying on the ground. I promise you I did not touch it, even with my foot. What I’ll never know is how or by what agent these pieces came together. The “why” seems obvious, though.

It’s so easy to get dragged down by the undertow (or do undertows drag out? another of the endless questions that fill my brain) — dragged on, let’s say, by the daily, hourly, secondly force of aberrant behavior here that you might wonder why I’m still here if it’s all so, well, aberrant.

Answer: It’s not ALL so aberrant.

Life here can also be really entertaining.  I try to stay alert to the brighter side, even if I don’t always write about it.  Things may calm down soon, and more brightness will be able to leave the Witness Protection Program where I’ve kept it while the summer rampaged on.

Here’s some of what I’ve seen lately that made me smile.

We were sitting with a bunch of friends in an osteria when this trio of lovelies wafted in. The visitation was clearly part of her wedding-eve bachelorette celebration (if that's what it's called anymore). Hence the wedding veil and flowers. The rabbit ears are original, though -- assuming she's not marrying a rabbit. They gave each man a special little gift.....

We were sitting with a bunch of friends in an osteria when this trio of lovelies wafted in. The visitation was clearly part of her wedding-eve bachelorette celebration (if that’s what it’s called anymore). Hence the wedding veil and flowers. The rabbit ears are original, though — assuming she’s not marrying a rabbit.  I’m a little concerned about her less-than-festive expression, but I don’t know how much wine they’d already given her.  I hope that’s the explanation, anyway.  Before wafting away, they offered each man a special little gift…..

It's chocolate.  It needs no explanation.

It’s chocolate. It needs no explanation.

This is the lion that triumphantly tops the entrance to the Arsenal, placed (with Santa Giustina above) in commemoration of the victory of the Battle of Lepanto. I've photographed him many times, but the other morning he was looking exceptionally crisp. Perhaps he'd been starched and ironed.

This is the lion that triumphantly tops the entrance to the Arsenal, placed (with Santa Giustina above) in commemoration of the victory of the Battle of Lepanto. I’ve photographed him many times, but the other morning he was looking exceptionally crisp. Perhaps he’d been starched and ironed.

The gondoliers' station at the Molo, which is almost always a scene resembling Grand Central Terminal at rush hour. Seeing this trusty gondolier ready for work, all by himself, on an early, diabolically hot July morning, was astonishing, and even a little distressing. Of course he had his little postage-stamp of shade. But I had the strange feeling he was waiting for an event for which he was either early or late.

Here we are at the gondoliers’ station at the Molo, which is almost always a scene resembling Grand Central Terminal at rush hour. Seeing this trusty gondolier ready for work, all by himself, on an early, diabolically hot July morning, was astonishing, and even a little distressing. Of course he had his little postage-stamp of shade, but it’s really unusual to see a gondolier all by himself.  I had the strange feeling he had been put there for a big Time Out.

I love reflections, but I never thought a rained-on gondola would take it upon its highly varnished self to continue the reflection of the palace already underway in the canal.  You get my reflection too, no extra charge.

I love reflections, but I never thought a rained-on gondola would take it upon its highly varnished self to continue the reflection of the palace already underway in the canal. You get my reflection too, no extra charge.

Speaking of gondolas and their intractable urge to reflect anything that comes in at the correct angle, I only discovered a slice of the church of San Lazzaro dei Mendicanti after I congratulated myself on taking a picture of the oars.

Speaking of gondolas and their intractable urge to reflect anything that comes in at the correct angle, I discovered a wavy slice of the church of San Lazzaro dei Mendicanti only after I congratulated myself on taking a picture of the oars.

Watching people has been more than usually entertaining this summer.  I'd like to have known if this pair had consulted on the green-white configuration, or if they are so conjoined mentally that they don't have to confer.

Watching people has been more than usually entertaining this summer. I’d like to have known if this pair had consulted on the green-white configuration, or if they are so conjoined mentally that they don’t have to confer.

Same thing here -- or maybe there was a memo that morning that went around the neighborhood. Which I didn't get, by the way.

Same thing here — or maybe there was a memo that morning that went around the neighborhood. Which I didn’t get, by the way.

As I looked at this young woman, I had to admit that despite the divergence in our taste, she had actually spent much more time planning and perfecting her appearance that morning than I had. I have to admire that.

As I looked at this young woman, I had to admit that despite the divergence in our taste, she had actually spent much more time planning and perfecting her appearance that morning than I had. I have to admire that. So please note her left shoulder-strap, which is red.  Sorry I didn’t make more effort to show the entire ensemble but I preferred to stay where I was.

She isn't a door-knocker, that's for sure.  I'm not certain what she's doing on this ironwork arabesque. With wings that small, she probably has to stop every few minutes to rest, like those animals who have to eat every five seconds or they die.

She isn’t a door-knocker, that’s for sure. I’m not certain what she’s doing on this ironwork arabesque. With wings that small, she probably has to stop every few minutes to rest, like those animals who have to eat every five seconds or they die.

 

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Aug
31

Could you make change for me?

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Despite the fact that he represents a doge (see ducal "corno"), this lion looks just like lots of Venetians when told they're going to have to change something.  Even if it's something dangerous and futile, it's change.  We don't want that!

Despite the fact that he represents a doge (notice the ducal “corno”), this lion looks surprisingly like lots of Venetians when told they’re going to have to change something.  Baffled.  Apprehensive.  Disbelieving.  If it’s change, make somebody else do it!

My recent silence would typically have been due to the winding down of the summer, the winding down of me, an annual process which usually is distinguished by….nothing.  Sloth, heat, tedium, what the doctors might call general malaise.  (The tedium, unhappily, is also caused by the endless, predictable procession of homicides, femicides, drownings, drug overdoses, fatal mountain accidents, political did-so-did-not, and miles of traffic backups on the major days of departing and returning from vacation.)  It’s practically a tradition.

There are usually some slight variations.  Today we read “After he slit his friend’s throat, he went out to drink a beer.”  That’s a little different.  Or the young man who was accosted by a prostitute on the street in a town out on the mainland who got fined 450 euros for the verbal exchange even though he turned her down.  The law says clients are criminals too, and it appears that even telling her no counts as much as hiring her for the weekend.  But on the whole, a typical 30 summer days, not so unlike what people experience in many other parts of the world.

By now, though, we all know that August, which is supposed to be the Nothing Month, was very much a Something Month, for the gondoliers, ACTV, and city as a whole. Which also explains my recent silence because (A) I was trying to keep up with the constantly evolving situation and (B) doing so made my brain seize up, therefore (C) we went to the mountains for a few days where my brain wasn’t needed for anything but maintaining basic life functions.

Returning to Venice, we immediately fell into the groove, right where we had left it.  There is a traditional sequence of events in this sliver of time, which involves lots of people moving ceaselessly around the city, especially in our neighborhood, not to mention the Lido.

Plenty of visitors are still going to see exhibitions of the Biennale; every evening, when the doors close at 6:00, we sit at our favorite cafe and watch the migration moving sluggishly from the distant Arsenal outposts toward and along via Garibaldi, in search of food, drink, and a place to sit.  I’ve seen a lot of really nice dresses this year, if anybody wants to know.

The Venice Film Festival opened three days ago, so although actors and fans aren’t to be seen in our little cranny of the city, there are plenty of badge-and-totebag-and-camera-bearing journalists around (a reported 3,000 have come to cover the festival. How could there be that many outlets in the world that want hourly bulletins about movies and their makers?).

Here's a Film Festival tradition I really like: the megayachts.  They're not for going anywhere, they're merely for parties.

Here’s a Film Festival tradition I really like: the megayachts. They’re not for going anywhere, they’re merely for parties.  But if you’re looking for a film contract, these boats will take you somewhere, if you’re lucky.

In fact, a number of traditions here are pleasant, even reassuring.  I enjoy the eternal cycle of seasonal food; right now the grapes and the warty, gnarly pumpkins (suca baruca, “the veal of Chioggia”) are appearing in the market. And I feel the onset of the Regata Storica, to be fought out tomorrow, and there are the signs in the shop windows selling new backpacks and school supplies. That’s the happy side of tradition.

Then there is the also-traditional way in which events have been unfurling since the death in the Grand Canal.  Everything that has happened since two weeks ago today has been as predictable as dusty bookshelves, but they are not positive developments.  In fact, they’re not really developments at all.

In the days following the accident, there was a mighty outcry from all sides demanding change.  That was predictable.

What is also predictable is that change is now being resisted with every weapon that comes to hand.  Life here obeys Newton’s Third Law, the one about equal-and-opposite-reactions. Newton’s Laws are among the few edicts nobody objects to, mainly because Newton isn’t around to argue with.

When I say “laws,” I am referring specifically to the recent regulations that have been proposed to establish order on the traffic in the Grand Canal.  Because even if you say you need them and want them, when you get them, you have to fight back.

The mayor and assorted sub-mayors and people who wear uniforms worked mightily and also rapidly to devise a new way of organizing the assorted boatly categories.  In record time, a 26-point plan was presented, and published in the Gazzettino.

This plan contained a number of dramatic innovations, such as collecting garbage at night, and requiring the barges to have finished their chores by 10:00 AM.

But this is the point at which the true, fundamental, guiding-more-surely-than-a-compass tradition took over.

The tradition is: I’m not changing anything.  Somebody else can change if they’re that dumb, but not me.

I knew the minute I read it that night work wasn’t going to fly.  If people hate working by day, which it seems many do, they would hate even more doing it by night.  Then the barge drivers said that working those hours would make everything more expensive. And so on.

So the very people who clamored for change in the heat of the moment have shown that they don’t want it.  They want somebody else to want it.  This is tradition!

People hardly had time to finish reading the list of 26 proposed changes to the traffic on the Grand Canal before the protests began.  The Nuova Venezia says:

People hardly had time to finish reading the list of 26 proposed changes to the traffic on the Grand Canal before the protests began. The Nuova Venezia says: “Limits in the Grand Canal, it’s a revolt,” and the Gazzettino says: “Revolution in the Grand Canal: Immediately there’s a storm about stopping the #2 line and garbage collection at night.”  I could have read these with my eyes shut.

I can tell you how things are going to go in the next few months, or perhaps merely weeks: Some tiny tweaks will be made, and everything will return to the way it was.  The #2 vaporetto is scheduled to go out of service on November 3, because it’s a high-season traffic-overflow adjunct.  The proposal to cut it earlier makes moderate sense, but it’s really window-dressing, because then there would have to be more #1 vaporettos to handle the traffic.

The “Vaporetto dell’Arte,” an enormous, lumbering, amazingly underused and overpriced vehicle, will also stop on November 3.  They could stop it now and nobody would notice, but it must be somebody’s pet project because it keeps on going.  Empty and big and expensive and pointless.  (The “pointless” part is a special ACTV sub-tradition.)

As for what everybody else thinks about revising the way things are done, Grug from “The Croods” put it best: “Change is always bad.”  As his son replied: “I get it, Dad!  I will never do anything new or different!”  Just a cartoon?  Maybe not.

By the staircase in the Palazzo Grassi, the original owner, Angelo Grassi, had the following phrase incised in 1749:  CONCORDIA RES PARVAE CRESCUNT, DISCORDIA ETIAM MAXIMAE DILABUNTUR.”  With harmony the small things grow, but with discord even the greatest things are brought to ruin.

One thing you can really count on is the instigation of new rules (otherwise known as "change") on the vaporettos.  The ACTV must have a team of people dedicated only to devising new and preposterous regulations which are almost impossible to enforce. But they take them so seriously, I don't want to hurt their feelings by laughing.  I might scoff, but I would never laugh.

Here’s a tradition that never fails: the invention of new rules (otherwise known as “change”) on the vaporettos. The ACTV must have a team of people dedicated only to devising new and preposterous regulations which are almost impossible to enforce. But they take them so seriously! Here’s the latest, in the so-called effort to eliminate freeloaders who don’t pay for their ticket.  This says “People found without a validated ticket on the floating pontoons will receive a fine.”  How will these deadbeats be found?  By whom?  The ACTV doesn’t have enough ticket-checkers on the boats themselves — they can spare them to roam around the city looking for unticketed people just standing on the dock?  Most of the world is satisfied to have people buy a ticket to take the bus.  Here, they have to buy a ticket just to wait for it.  You’re stuck in the rain waiting for your friend?  You have to buy a ticket.  You want to help your grandmother get her shopping trolley onto the boat?  You have to buy a ticket.  Hard as I try to grasp this concept, it just slips away.

 

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IMG_4064 rose

I came across this this morning.

I’ll never know what happened, but my first reaction was to feel sad for whoever dismembered the rose and scattered its bits to the wind, to the gravel, to the pigeons. To feel sad for the reason why it happened.  To feel sad for how they’re feeling now.  To feel sad for the rose, too, while I’m at it.

But because I really, really hate feeling sad, especially that early in the morning, when the sun is shining, etc., I let my  brain wander around seeking other possible scenarios to account for what had happened that might make me feel better.

Maybe this is an original way for two people to pledge undying, eternal, infinite love.  Buy a rose and decapitate it.

Maybe she said, “If I have to choose between having a rose and having you, this is how much I need the rose,” and destroyed it and flung it away.  Avaunt!

Or maybe he pulled off the petals one by one and let each float down on her head, saying “I love you” in a different language as each one touched her hair.

Or maybe she hit him with the rose till it fell apart.  Maybe they laughed.  Maybe they didn’t.

Maybe he said, “If you ever die, I will rip away every remnant of your beauty and sacrifice it to the sun.”  (He’d have to have been moderately drunk if he got that far.) (However, I am not.)

I am not going to say that the petals were the color of blood, because that's just too obvious and trite. But they came darn close.

I am not going to say that the petals were the color of blood, because that’s just too obvious and trite. But they came darn close.

I’ll tell you what: I’m going to stop all this, and I’m going to stop imagining writing a poem, or a short story, or a one-act play, or anything else.

I’ll leave the subject — and the carcass of the hapless scion of the family Rosaceae — with two thoughts, either one of which makes me feel strangely better.

One — maybe it’s just some work of art from the Biennale, a fragment of improvised performance art.

Two — this observation from an unidentified person:

People say hate is a strong word; well so is love, but people throw it around like it’s nothing.

Or maybe there's just something about this part of the neighborhood that impels people to strew bits of red vegetable matter.

Or maybe there’s just something about this part of the neighborhood that impels people to strew bits of red vegetable matter.

 

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I appreciate that Venice (well, San Giorgio, in this case) is seductive and irresistible and beautiful and everything. But it wouldn't have been less beautiful the next day. It's been here for 1,500 years -- presumably it can wait for a family to have dinner and sleep.

I appreciate that Venice (well, San Giorgio, in this case) is seductive and irresistible and beautiful and everything. But it wouldn’t have been less beautiful the next day. The city has been here for 1,500 years — presumably it can wait for a family to have dinner and sleep.

After I began to think about it more clearly (that is to say, after I thought about it in the mountains, where we just went for four days, breathing air that was cool and dry enough to resuscitate my mental processes), I realized that I made a small miscalculation in the payday for the police.

I’m referring to the extra paydays they gave themselves by forging permits and whatever else they were doing to help eager immigrants make it through the bureaucracy.

Yes, each of the accused maintainers of public order did indeed receive 300 euros for finagling the permit, which seemed to my super-saturated brain to be pitifully small.

But now I realize what sharp readers have long since understood: It was 300 euros multiplied by God knows how many times they orbited the cash register each day.  Each week.  Each month.

Before long, it won’t be only God who knows what the total came to.  I presume a phalanx of lawyers and judges is already pounding its calculators.

Not me.  I don’t care anymore.  I’m on to other things.   I’m more interested now in the German couple who drove their camper  1,026 km/637 miles from Dresden to Cavallino-Treporti the other day.  Even though the trip probably took them ten hours, and most likely more, when they got there the first thing they wanted to do was to get on the motonave and go to Venice.  How romantic, how beautiful.  And how inconvenient that their ten-year-old daughter dug in her heels at yet another trek before the day could finally be over.

Nothing daunted, her parents locked her inside the camper.  Then they went off on their own, feeling fine about her being fine, except she wasn’t.

She got out of the camper, couldn’t get back in, became distraught, and was collected by a sympathetic passerby who took her to everyone’s favorite caretakers, the Carabinieri.  Who were waiting for her parents at midnight when they got off the boat from Venice.  To present them with the formal accusation of abandonment of a minor.

Mann kann nicht alles unter einen Hut bringen, as they say in the Vaterland.  You can’t put everything under one hat.  Neither can you have everything you want, including a child-free jaunt to Venice whenever you feel like it, no matter where you might be inclined to put it.

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